A Person’s Primary Obligation is to Perfect Himself – Noach 5778
This issue is presented with great thanks and praise to the Rebono shel Olam for his everlasting kindness and in particular for allowing us to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of our dear grandson Efraim Chaim, the son of our dear children Rav Betzalel and Elisheva Vogel. A hearty Mazel Tov to our beloved mechutanim, Dr. and Mrs. Heshy Jacob! A hearty Mazel Tov to my esteemed mother Mrs. Lila Vogel in New York! May Hashem continue to bestow His kindness upon us and upon all of the people of Israel!
Machon Daniel Torah Weekly
“To Stir the Mind and to Light up the Shabbos and the Holidays”
A Person’s Primary Obligation is to Perfect Himself
“אלה תולדות נח נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדורותיו” (בראשית ו:ט)
“These are the descendants of Noach, Noach was a completely righteous man in his generations” (Bereishis 6:9)
The question begs to be asked, if the posuk tells us that it is about to list the descendants of Noach, why does it first list Noach’s personal qualities and only afterward the names of his children!? Rashi explains that this comes to teach us that the main descendants of the righteous are their own good deeds.
With G-d’s help we will try and understand this principle, and afterwards answer why this principle was taught regarding the deeds of Noach and not regarding the deeds of Avraham or Yitzchok or Yaakov or one of the shevatim!?
We can suggest as follows: if we would ask people what was the greatest thing Noach achieved in his lifetime, probably most people, if not all, would answer that he saved mankind from annihilation! Here the Torah teaches us that Noach gave something even greater than that! If you’ll ask, what could possibly be greater than saving mankind from annihilation!? The Torah answers that he “saved” himself from any type of repugnant behavior and expressed only exemplary behavior and good deeds.
This is the intention of our posuk “אלה תולדות נח נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדורותיו” / “These are the descendants of Noach, Noach was a completely righteous man in his generations” (Bereishis 6:9). Who are the descendants of Noach? Noach himself! “He was a completely righteous man” meaning that he and his good deeds were his main descendants!
The Torah adds the word “בדורותיו” / “in his generations”. What is this coming to teach us? It appears that it is coming to emphasize that in all of Noach’s 950 years, although he was of great benefit to his society as the Torah explains at the end of Parshas Bereishis that he invented the plow which not only revolutionized how they worked the ground but caused a complete change in the type of product which grew in the field as Rashi explains that the people would plant wheat and only thorns would grow and with Noach’s help all this changed so that when they planted wheat, the field produced wheat, and not thorns! Even though this too was exceedingly beneficial, it held only secondary value in the face of Noach’s accomplishments in his personal behavior!
Similar to this, we find in the Mishna (Avos 4:1): Who is a valiant person? One who overrides the influence of his evil inclination, as the posuk states“טוב ארך אפים מגבור ומושל ברוחו מלוכד עיר” / “Greater is one who expresses patience than a valiant person; and (greater is) one who rules his spirit than one who conquers a city” (Mishlei 16:32). The Malbim explains the meaning of“מושל ברוחו” that one’s spirit can be compared to a fortified city filled with a great number of soldiers of the evil inclination which are the source of all negative characteristics and behavior. If a person overcomes these thoughts created by the evil inclination even before they have a chance to affect him, he thus conquers this virtual city and is considered a greater and more valiant warrior than one who conquers an actual city with powerful armies, for as great as an accomplishment it may be, it stands outside of his personal world. Here too, similar to Noach, internal personal achievement is considered greater than the greatest of external achievements, even if one is of great benefit to the society he resides in!
We find an additional example of this principle in Megilas Ester. The posuk reads “וכל מעשה תקפו וגבורתו ופרשת גדלת מרדכי אשר גדלו המלך הלוא הם כתובים על ספר דברי הימים למלכי מדי ופרס. כי מרדכי היהודי משנה למלך אחשורוש וגדול ליהודים ורצוי לרב אחיו דרש טוב לעמו ודבר שלום לכל זרעו” / “The greatness of Achashverosh and of Mordechai… are recorded in the records of the kings of Madai and Paras (Persia). For Mordechai the Jew is second in power only to King Achashverosh and is the great leader of the Jewish people and is desired/respected by the majority of his brethren…” (Ester 10:2-3). Regarding that which it states “desired/respected by the majority of his brethren” and not “all his brethren”, Rashi, quoting the Gemora (16b), explains that some of his ” brethren”, meaning his fellow scholars of the high court, parted from him because was spending more time in public affairs and less time in the Beis Medrash. From here the Gemora concludes that Torah learning is greater than saving lives. The Megila emphasizes this lesson as well in the first posuk quoted above mentioning that the deeds of Mordechai were compared to the power and the greatness of King Achashverosh, and even so, because he slightly reduced the amount of time he dedicated to Torah learning, he was only “desired/respected” by “most” and not “all” of his fellow Torah scholars. Here again, we learn that personal accomplishments precede external ones – however great they may be!
In further review of the above principle that the main descendants of the righteous are their own good deeds, we can explain that although there is a mitzvah to raise children and to educate them to perform only good deeds, children don’t always go in the ways of their parents. And even if they do in general faithfully follow their parent’s guidance and direction, they are apt to falter from time to time or to act in a compromising manner. In short, a parent does not have full control over the behavior of his children. And so is true with a Rebbi and his students.
However, there is one person in the world one can educate and direct so that he will always walk down the path of the righteous and perform all his actions without lacking! That person is you! The person himself! This is the reason that the main descendants of the righteous are their own good deeds!
Behind this lies the reason why we cannot guarantee that others will do as we request, for this alerts us to the fact that our primary responsibility is not to complete others but to complete ourselves! This concept is eloquently expressed by the Rambam (in his commentary on the Mishna at the end of Mesechta Makos) in explanation of the statement of Rebbi Chananya Ben Akashya who says that Hakadosh Baruch Hu desired to bring merit to the Jewish people and therefore gave them a deep Torah and a large number of mitzvos as the posuk reads “ה’ חפץ למען צדקו יגדיל תורה ויאדיר” (Yishaya 42:21).
The Rambam states that one of the basic tenants of Torah is that when a person fulfills even one mitzvah of the 613 mitzvos as need be, and performs the mitzvah from love and with absolutely no personal interest; solely to fulfill Hashem’s will, he will merit to the reward of the World-to-Come. From here again we see the emphasis on the pure and whole accomplishments of the individual.
This is at it states regarding Shabbos “ביני ובין בני ישראל אות היא לעולם” / “Between Me and between the children of Israel it is an everlasting sign” (Shemos 31:17), teaching us that the main work of a person is between himself and G-d! That is, the “אות” / “sign” which Hashem desires to show His people is revealed to man when he develops a personal relationship with G-d, putting his personal performance of mitzvos above before all other involvements and accomplishments!
We are left to ask why the above lesson was taught regarding Noach and not regarding Avraham, for he too was a pure and righteous man as the posuk states “התהליך לפני והיה תמים” / “Walk before Me and you shall be complete” (Bereishis 17:1)!?
We can suggest with G-d’s help, that even though the main descendants of the righteous are their own actions, there is an even higher level which is found in Avraham and not in Noach. That is, that the child of the righteous person continues in his ways, and this we find by Avraham and not by Noach (with the exception of Shem and others). Thus, the principle that the main descendants of the righteous are their own good deeds is learned from Noach and not from Avraham, for Avraham reached a higher level as his son and generations followed in his path. This, as the posuk states regarding Avraham “כי ידעתיו למען אשר יצוה את בניו ואת ביתו אחריו ושמרו דרך ה’ לעשות צדקה ומשפט למען הביא ה’ על אברהם את אשר דבר עליו” (Bereishis 18:19).
In addition, Avraham had additional merit because his children followed in his ways as their merits were attributed to him, as the sages explain the above verse “למען הביא ה’ על אברהם את אשר דבר עליו” that it does not say “על בית אברהם” / “on the house of Avraham” meaning the descendants of Avraham but rather “על אברהם” / “on Avraham” himself, which teaches us that one who raises a righteous son is considered as though he never died, for the merits of the son are attributed to his father! Thus the above lesson of personal accomplishment was learned by Noach, for Avraham’s level greatly exceeded the level of Noach!
Wishing you a nice Shabbos!